Referees reflection of 2013/2014 Sevens season

Getty Images     09 Oct 2014     Getty Images

As is the case this year, the HSBC Sevens World Series 2013-14 kicked off in the sunshine on the Gold Coast of Australia. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces reconvene after the break in international competition, while the addition of female referees – to assist in the preparation and on the touchlines and the in-goal areas during matches – made for a welcome change from the norm.

Like the players, referees like to be competitive too, and the now traditional pre-tournament game of touch rugby took place between officials from the northern and southern hemispheres. It is a fantastic way to fill some downtime, stretch the legs after training and build up team spirit.

The Gold Coast final was a cross-Tasman affair, refereed by Rasta Rasivhenge, and resulted in a convincing win for New Zealand over the host nation. The Aussie team played well in their home tournament, but were wrecked after a semi-final that seemed to go on forever in extra-time. Rhys Thomas set some GPS data records in refereeing that one!

Emotionally charged

The Series then moved onto Dubai and South Africa. The weather and the atmosphere generated by the crowds lived up to expectation in Dubai, where Fiji had everyone talking following their big win over New Zealand in the semi-final. They went on to defeat South Africa for the Cup, with Federico Anselmi refereeing the game.

From there, the Sevens circuit moved to South Africa, for what ended up being an emotionally charged week. With Nelson Mandela’s death occurring just days before the Port Elizabeth tournament, the organisers were able to celebrate the great leader’s life prior to the kick-off. The home team duly read the script and went on to win the tournament, in front of an immense and appreciative crowd. Matt O’Brien refereed the game in a pressure cooker-like cauldron.

Hypnotic Vegas

Las Vegas was first up in 2014 in a change from the usual order of tournaments. After travelling, we trained early in the week, trying to acclimatise to the dry air of Nevada. Our American hosts were great as always and we sampled a little of what Vegas has to offer in attending a hypnotist show. One referee, who shall remain nameless, was heavily involved in providing the laughs for the audience as the hypnotist’s fall-guy.

Over the three days of the tournament, in front of pleasingly large crowds, South Africa again proved to be the dominant team to win the cup, with Matt O’Brien also continuing his form to referee the final. Due to the unusual scheduling, after the tournament some officials went home while others, from the northern hemisphere, headed to New Zealand early to enjoy a few days off before the tournament preparations began.

Party time

Wellington was typically outstanding as a venue, with the people, the hotel, the central city location and the mid-week activities all combining to make it a pleasurable week – touch football with the IRB referees and the local Wellington Referees’ Society was a highlight. Ian Tempest from England refereed his debut final with New Zealand winning their home tournament over South Africa in front of the typical Wellington party atmosphere.

Tokyo was next up in the Series schedule and an enjoyable week was spent in one of the world’s biggest cities. Among other things, we witnessed the coldest, wettest yo-yo test and run session ever, as well as the challenge of trying to make sure the referees group made it onto the right metro train to visit one of Tokyo’s busy market and temple areas. The phrase ‘like herding cats’ comes to mind!
Fiji returned to the winner’s stage, beating South Africa in the Cup final refereed by France’s Alex Ruiz. Toyko concluded with Taku Otsuki taking the referee group out for an authentic Japanese supper.

HK rocks!

The Series then shifted focus to one of the big ones: Hong Kong. Hong Kong never fails to disappoint as a venue and 2014 was no exception. As well as some of the regular events, like the seafood dinner at Lama Island and the gathering with the local society at the Policeman’s Club, this year we saw rock band Queen performing live on day two as well as witnessing one of the biggest downpours ever experienced by most present after the tournament had drawn to a close. The torrential rain caused the transport system to close and turned the grassy area around the club where we were enjoying a post-tournament
function into a swimming pool.

Eventual winners New Zealand started their impressive run of form heading towards the conclusion of the Series, with a convincing victory over England, who always bring their best form to Hong Kong. Matt O’Brien refereed his third Cup final of the season.

The Asian legs completed, it was time to look forward to the UK.

Britain bound

Scotland, as always, was a pleasure, with a relaxed week due to our wonderful hosts and nice location in a quiet corner of Glasgow, a short walk from the city centre. The referees were able to rekindle some northern versus southern hemisphere rivalry in the epic ultimate Frisbee contest at training, as well as on the snooker table. The tournament itself was interesting due to the performances of the hosts and Canada who met in the semi-final. It was Canada who went through to play New Zealand in the final. New Zealand proved too dominant in a final refereed by Rasta.

We then travelled south for the concluding tournament, New Zealand having all but secured another Series title up in Scotland. In London the referees stayed in a hotel a far distance out of the city and away from the teams. Most of us took opportunities to see the famous sights, a couple even experienced some culture at a gallery or museum.

The London leg was a fitting finale to the HSBC Sevens World Series. The referees revelled in the atmosphere of almost 75,000 fans in Twickenham on day one alone. The ninth final of the Series saw the same two teams as back on the Gold Coast, New Zealand and Australia, as well as the same referee Rasta, in control. New Zealand won the tournament and their fourth Series title in a row in style – and 12th overall.

Teams, management staff, referees and tournament officials then concluded the Series with the awards dinner and social gathering.

Ibrox eye-opener

But we weren’t quite finished yet, the season ended with the highlight of a sunny Scottish Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The week heading into the Games was similar to a normal tournament week, however ‘living in’ together in the technical officials accommodation made for a nice change from what can be the isolation of some hotels.

The four sessions of rugby were amazing; the historic Ibrox Stadium was full and the crowd really got behind Scotland and all of the less experienced teams. The class, experience and power of the core teams came to the fore though in the big matches on day two and South Africa were worthy recipients of the gold medal, beating New Zealand for the honour – Matt O’Brien adding that game to his now impressive Sevens CV.

As we have come to expect, the Scottish hospitality was second to none.